Grandparents = Free Childcare?

My parents are in town.  This doesn’t happen very often.  Like, maybe once a year.  And after a whirlwind of a weekend together I went back to work while my mom stayed home and watched my sick son, folded my laundry, and did my grocery shopping.  Meanwhile, my dad painted my house and fixed my car in the blazing August sun.

Obviously, this is the Seattle vacation that dreams are made of.

I am incredibly grateful that they have been helping us out with so much over the past couple of weeks, and while I continually remind them that they don’t have to do any of those things, they assure me they are happy to.  And I decided to believe them and just enjoy the extra help rather than feel guilty that they’re using their time this way.

Within the same time period I ran into an article online.  It was about a gentleman who was rather upset that his mother, who had watched his children free-of-charge for the past several years, had indicated that she would like to change their arrangement and stop providing care so she could pursue some of her personal interests in her retirement years.  We’ll just say that he was not exactly gracious in his reaction.

These days it seems like more grandparents than ever are helping out with the day-to-day care of their grandchildren.  Some use this arrangement because, financially, it’s the best option for them.  And others do it because the grandparents adore this arrangement and wouldn’t have it any other way.

I certainly have empathy for the poor guy who needs to deal with the stressful task of figuring out new childcare arrangements.  But I can’t help but think about how he could have handled the situation differently so it didn’t result in hurt feelings and frustration.  Did they communicate regularly and openly?   What made him feel entitled to his mother’s help?  Doesn’t she have the right to change her plans?  She can quit being a babysitter and still be a grandma, right?

 This is such a tricky thing to navigate, isn’t it?  Grandparents adore their grandchildren.  But they’ve also already raised their own children and might be happy to have those energy-intense years behind them.  Still, they also love their children and want to help out any way they can – so how can we graciously accept help without feeling like we’re taking advantage of their kindness, and without feeling guilty of using them too much?  Where is the balance?

I’ll admit that this is a hard thing for me to navigate personally – and not just with my parents here on their two-week visit. 

My husband’s parents are local.  And I’m guilty of not ensuring that they see their grandkids often enough because I err way too much on the side of caution.  I want them to see their grandkids and enjoy them, but not take advantage of their kindness and love for their grandchildren to the point that they feel like all of their free time is taken up with my kids.  It’s a balance I know I struggle with and I know I’m managing poorly.  They adore their grandchildren, and their grandchildren adore them right back, and I’m ashamed to admit that sometimes a month will pass without ever popping in.  They live ten minutes away.

Does anyone else struggle with this?  How do you balance fostering a close relationship between your kids and their grandparents without crossing the line and taking advantage?  How do you keep the relationship mutually beneficial?  And I’d love some insight from the seasoned grandmothers out there!

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  1. Cheryl posted on 08/12/2014 02:55 PM
    I'm a grandma who takes care of our grandson. I've been taking care of him for 8 years now. I love the the little guy a lot. There's not much I wouldn't do for him. But there are times I wish I had my life to myself. So my husband and I could do more, go places. I miss having a life. Yet at the same time, I love spending time with our grandson. My daughter can't afford child care, and I know that, and she's sick with Lupus, but I still miss my freedom. It's a very difficult situation for me. I have a child who is dependent on me, a daughter who is also depending on me, but I've lost myself, to some degree, in all this. Some days I just want to sit down and cry. It's such a hard place to be.
    1. Kristina Slaney posted on 08/12/2014 05:02 PM
      @Cheryl Oh, Cheryl. First let me say what a wonderful mother and grandmother you are to support your daughter and grandson this way. It is clear that you love them both dearly, and they are so, so lucky to have you.

      I also thank you for sharing your story because it not only serves as a reminder of HOW IMPORTANT it is that we keep this balance in mind for the sake of the caregivers we use, but also it demonstrates that finding the "right" balance is just as hard for the grandparents who cherish their grandbabies and want to support their kids in difficult seasons.

      I will be thinking about you and I hope that other grandmothers join us in this conversation as you have. Thank you again for being here and sharing your struggle. You are a lovely woman, and again, your daughter and grandson are blessed to have you. I hope that you find peace as you struggle through this tough season.
  2. Cheryl posted on 08/12/2014 03:02 PM
    One more thing. I'm at my daughter's 12 hours a day, nearly every day of the week, and then some. 6:30am till 7pm. And no monetary compensation.
  3. Ann Kirsten posted on 08/12/2014 05:05 PM
    Cheryl, What a tough position you are in. I too love my grandkids but also want some free time and a life of my own. I find that when I feel like I am not being appreciated (or taken for granted) I need to step away for a bit. Sounds like that is difficult for you to do. May I ask why you babysit so much? Does your daughter work in spite of lupus? Is your load easier once school starts? Does the school provide after school care for a reasonable amount? There just has to be a solution because my heart aches for you.
  4. shari lynne posted on 08/13/2014 01:53 PM
    Kristina this is absolutely beautifully written.

    It is definitely a balancing act. For me..the Grammy I watch my grandchildren and get paid..but I still have children at home that need to be cared for. So if I did not get compensated I would be working.

    I try to be upfront with my daughter and she with me. We have a pretty mature relationship I feel as we navigate balance in this babysitting thing.
  5. AllMomDoes_Stephanie posted on 08/14/2014 08:39 AM
    I struggle with this too! We work full time and rely on my mom 2 times a week and my MIL 1 day a week! I love date nights but struggle with asking them too often since they help so much during the week. My mom swears up and down she loves every second of it (most days!) but I still want to ensure I don't burn her out.
  6. Alice posted on 08/19/2014 01:39 PM
    I have been a grandma now over a year and my grandbaby lives less than 10 min away yet I have not been alone in the same room let alone be allowed to babysit for no good reason whatsoever. I have tried the "can I come and play" or see this baby, tried just showing up. Sent sweet notes, asked to take to zoo, babysit there babysit at my place. Im a sunday school teacher, have CPR training love kids, know many small ones personally but not my own. I don't even know what food is liked or not as I have not been given the opportunity..no good reason for me or my husband. It is quite sad but I wont beg. I wont be the cause of fights cause we want to see baby or them. Its sad my son has allowed this to happen too. yet the other grandparents get lots of time. Something we keep praying about. Parents please consider the granparents from both sides and what they can give in relationships for those precious babies. More than that to know one day that baby will know the Lord!
    1. Kristina Slaney posted on 08/20/2014 10:02 PM
      @Alice Alice, that sounds heartbreaking. I can feel your longing to know and play with and love on your sweet grandbaby just in your brief summary of your situation. Keep on being persistent with both your prayers and your offers to help, and I hope that you will get to spend some good time with your sweet little one soon!
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